Read CHAPTER XIV - Hetty's Constancy of Hetty Gray, Nobody's Bairn, free online book, by Rosa Mulholland, on ReadCentral.com.

“I hope Hetty is getting on better in the school-room now,” said Mrs. Enderby to Phyllis one day; “I have not heard any complaints for some time.”

“I think she is doing pretty well, mother; at least she behaves better to Miss Davis. As for me, I have very little to do with her. I notice, however, that she has quarrelled with Mark. He and she used to be great friends, because she is such a romp and ready for any rough play. But now he does not speak to her.”

“That does not matter much,” said Mrs. Enderby smiling; “she will be better with Miss Davis and you. You must continue to take an interest in the poor child, dear Phyllis. I wish she gave as little trouble as you do.”

Phyllis was one of those girls for whom mothers ought to be more uneasy than for the wilder and naughtier children who cause them perpetual annoyance. She was so proper in all her ways, and so well-behaved as never to seem in fault. Her reasons for everything she said and did were so ready and so plausible, that it required a rather clever and far-seeing person to detect the deep-rooted pride and self-complacency that lay beneath them. To manage all things quietly her own way, to be accounted wise and good, and greatly superior to ordinary girls of her age, was as the breath of life to Phyllis. To have to stand morally or actually in the corner with other naughty children was a humiliation she had unfortunately never experienced, but was one which would have done her a world of good. All those early storms of remorse, repentance, compunction, which do so much to prepare the ground for a growth of virtue in children’s hearts, were an unknown experience to her. She believed in herself, and she expected others, young and old, to believe in her. Such characters, if not discovered and humbled in time, are likely to have a terrible future, and to grow up the unconscious enemies of their own happiness and that of the people who live around them.

Mark kept up his indignation towards Hetty for a week. He did not grieve over the quarrel as she did, but he missed her sadly in his games. However, an accident soon occurred which made them friends again.

Mark had had a piece of land given to him in a retired part of the grounds, and he was full of the project of making a garden of his own, according to his own particular fancy. His father was pleased to allow him to do this, being glad of anything that would occupy the restless lad while at home for his holidays.

“I will draw all the beds geometrically myself,” said Mark, “and make it quite different from anything you have ever seen. And then I will build a tea-house all of fir, and line it with cones, and it will have a delightful perfume.”

Then he said to himself that if Hetty had not turned out so badly he would have asked her to make tea very often in his nice house among his flowers. But, of course, he could not ask a tell-tale duffer of a girl to do anything for him.

He set to work to plan his beds, and one afternoon was busy marking off spaces with wooden pegs and a long line of cord. After working some time he came to the end of his pegs, and was annoyed to find that he had not enough to finish the particular figure he was planning. He did not like to drop his line to go for more pegs, as he feared his work was not secure enough, and would fall astray if the string was not held taut till the end should be properly secured.

Just as he looked around impatiently, not knowing what to do, he saw Hetty coming along the path above him, walking slowly and reading. She was very often reduced to the necessity of taking a story-book as companion of her leisure hours, now that Mark would have nothing to do with her. This afternoon Phyllis and Nell were out driving with their mother, and Miss Davis had seized the opportunity to write letters. Hetty was therefore thrown on her own resources and was roaming about with a book. She would have rushed away to Mrs. Kane’s at once, but she knew that this was John Kane’s dinner hour. But half an hour hence she would set off for the village, and have a nice long chat with her foster-mother.

Hetty descended the winding path with her eyes on her book, and before she saw him, nearly stumbled against Mark.

“Do you mean to walk over a fellow?” said Mark in an aggrieved tone.

“Oh, Mark, I beg your pardon. I did not know you were here. Now,” she added, looking round wistfully, “if you wouldn’t be cross with me what a nice time we could have working at your garden together.”

“If you weren’t disagreeable, I suppose you mean. Well, yes, we could. But you see we’re not friends.”

“And you won’t, won’t be?” said Hetty anxiously.

“Well, look here, if you hold this string for me a bit I’ll think about it. My pegs are shaky until the string is fastened up tight, and I can’t drop it, and I must go to the stable-yard for some more pegs. If you hold this string till I come back, perhaps I will forgive you.”

“Oh yes, I will hold it,” said Hetty; and down went her book on the grass, and she took the cord and held it as Mark directed.

“Be sure to keep steady till I come back,” he said; “and you mustn’t mind if I am kept a little while. I may have to look for Jack, who has the key of the storehouse where the pegs are kept.”

And off he went.

When he got to the stable-yard he met a groom who was coming to look for him, saying that his father wanted him to go out riding. Mr. Enderby was already in the saddle, and Mark’s pony was waiting beside him at the door. Mark, who loved a ride, especially in company with his father, at once vaulted on the pony’s back and was soon trotting out of the gates, laughing and chatting with his papa. He had completely forgotten Hetty, and the pegs, and the cord that had to be held taut till he should come back.

In the meantime Hetty was standing just where he had left her, looking in the direction from which he was to return. A quarter of an hour passed, and her finger and thumb, which held the string exactly as Mark had directed, were a little stiff. Another quarter passed, and lest the cord should relax she changed it from one hand to the other.

“Jack must have gone out,” she thought, “and Mark is waiting for him. I wish he would come back, for I do want to see Mrs. Kane.”

However, another quarter passed and Mark did not appear. Hetty was very cold, for it was damp wintry weather with a sharp wind, and one gets chilly standing perfectly still so long in the open air. She felt tempted to put down the string and go to look for Mark, but on reflection thought it would be disloyal to do so. He should not be disappointed in her again. Something extraordinary had happened to keep him away, but he should find her at her post when he came back. Then he would be sure to forgive her, and she would be happy again.

Another half-hour passed and her toes were half-frozen, and her fingers and her little nose pinched and red. She wished she had put on her gloves before she took the cord in her hands. Now she could not drop it to put them on. The jacket she wore was not a very warm one. Oh, why did not Mark come back? It occurred to her that perhaps he might be playing a trick to punish her; but she could not believe he would be so cruel. Should she drop the string at last, and tell him afterwards that she had held it as long as she could endure the cold? No, she would go on holding it. He should see that she could bear something for his sake.

Hetty had been about an hour shivering at her post when Mark, riding gaily along the road many miles from home, suddenly remembered Hetty and the cord. He felt greatly startled and shocked at his carelessness. “I ought to have sent Jack with the pegs to finish the work, and to tell her I was going to ride,” he reflected; “but it can’t be helped now. She will never be such a goose as to stay there long.” And he felt more sorry thinking of how the string would be lying slack until his return than for treating Hetty so inconsiderately. Trying to put the whole thing out of his head he began to chatter to his father about something that had happened at school, and thought no more about the matter till he had returned home an hour later.

Then he sprang from his pony and ran off to his garden to see if he could tighten up the string before it became quite dark night. Could he believe his eyes? There was Hetty holding the string as he had left her.

“Do you mean to say you have been there ever since?” he said in utter amazement.

“Yes,” said Hetty, trying to keep her teeth from chattering. “You told me not to mind if you were kept a while. And I did not mind.”

“But do you know that I have been two hours away, and have had a long ride with father?” said Mark.

“It seemed a long time,” said Hetty; “but I did not know what you were doing. I promised to stay and I stayed.”

“Well, you were a precious goose,” he said, taking the string out of her hand. “Nobody but a stupid of a girl would do such a thing.”

Hetty said nothing, but slapped her hands together, and tried to keep the tears of disappointment from coming into her eyes.

“Here, hold the string a moment longer while I put this peg properly into the ground. Can’t you catch it tight? Oh, your fingers are stiff. There, that will do for to-night Now, come home and get warm again.”

They walked up to the house together. Hetty was too cold, and tired, and hurt to speak again, and Mark was too much annoyed at his own carelessness, and what he called Hetty’s stupidity, to be able to thank her, and offer to make friends with her. Hetty went up to her own room to take off her things, and when she came down to the school-room she found that the tea was over and she was in disgrace for staying out so long. Phyllis cast a disapproving glance at her as she entered. Punctuality was one of Phyllis’s virtues. Miss Davis rebuked Hetty for staying out alone so late.

“I must tell Mrs. Kane,” she said, “not to keep you so late when you go to see her.”

Then Hetty was obliged to say that she had not been to see Mrs. Kane.

“Where, then, can you have been for two hours all alone?”

“I was all the time in the grounds,” said Hetty.

She had made up her mind that she would not “tell” this time of Mark, and the consciousness that she was in an awkward position made her colour up and look as if guilty of some fault she did not wish to own. Phyllis looked at her narrowly and glanced at Miss Davis, who had a pained expression on her face, but who said nothing more at the time, being willing to screen Hetty if she could.

“Hetty, I am sure you have got cold,” said Nell after some time; “you are all shivery-shuddery.”

“My head is aching,” said Hetty; “I don’t feel well.”

“I suppose you were sitting all the time reading a story-book,” said Phyllis, “that would give you cold in weather like this.”

“No, I was not reading, at least not long,” said Hetty.

“But were you sitting?”

“No.”

“Walking?”

“No, not much.”

“My dear, you must not cross-question like that,” said Miss Davis. “Perhaps Hetty will tell me by and by what she was doing.”

A frown gathered on Phyllis’s fair brows and she turned coldly to her lesson book which she was studying for the next day. She could not bear even so slight a rebuke as this, but she knew how to reserve the expression of her displeasure to a fitting time. She herself believed that she bore an undeserved reproof with dignity, but some day in the future the governess would be made to suffer some petty annoyance or disappointment in atonement for her misconduct in finding fault with her pattern pupil. Hetty raised her eyes with a thankful glance at Miss Davis, who saw that they were full of tears. A sudden warmth kindled in Miss Davis’s heart as she saw that Hetty trusted in her forbearance, and she said presently:

“I think you had better go to bed now, Hetty. You look unwell; and bed is the best place for a cold.”

“May I go with her, and see that she is covered up warm?” said Nell.

“Yes,” said Miss Davis, “certainly.” And the two little girls left the room together, Hetty squeezing Nell’s hand in gratitude for her kindness.

When they got up to Hetty’s room Nell’s curiosity could no longer restrain itself.

“Oh, Hetty,” she said, “will you tell me what you were doing? I can see it is a great secret. And I won’t tell anybody.”

“Neither will I,” said Hetty laughing; “but I was not hurting anyone, nor breaking the laws.”

“Now, you are making fun of me,” said Nell; “it is too bad not to tell me. And Phyllis will be cool with me to-night for running after you.”

“Then why did you not stay in the school-room?” said Hetty sadly. “I don’t want to make coolness between you and Phyllis.”

“I shouldn’t mind Phyllis if you would let me have a secret with you. It is so nice to have a secret, and it is so hard to get one. Everybody knows all about everything.”

“I don’t agree with you; I hate secrets,” said Hetty. “This is not much of one, I think, but it is somebody else’s affair, and I will not tell it.”

Having wrung so much as this from Hetty, Nell grew wildly excited over the matter, and was so annoyed at not having her curiosity gratified that she went away out of the room in a hurry without having seen whether Hetty was warm enough or not. On her return to the school-room she announced that Hetty could not tell anything about how she had passed the afternoon, because it was somebody else’s secret.

“Perhaps she has been bringing some village girl or boy into the grounds,” said Phyllis quietly.

“I will talk to her myself about this,” said Miss Davis; “pray attend to your studies.”

Miss Davis on reflection thought Phyllis might be right, and that having made acquaintance with some young companion in Mrs. Kane’s cottage, Hetty might have been induced to admit her or him to the grounds so as to give pleasure. She knew how strongly the child was influenced by her likings and lovings, and feared that this might be the case of Scamp over again, with the important difference that Hetty was now a girl in her twelfth year, and that her new favourite might prove to be a human being instead of a dog.

The next day Hetty was seriously ill. She had caught a severe cold and lay tossing feverishly in her bed. Miss Davis came up to see her in the afternoon and sat at her bedside for half an hour.

“Hetty,” she said, “I fear you must have been very foolish yesterday, and that your cold is the consequence. Now that we are alone I expect you will tell me exactly all that you did.”

“I can’t indeed, Miss Davis.”

“You disappoint me exceedingly. I had been thinking so much better of you; I conclude you were not alone yesterday.”

“Not all the time, but most of it.”

“Who was with you when you were not alone?”

Hetty hesitated, and then said, “Mark.”

“But Mark was out riding with his father.”

“Yes.”

“And you were alone all that time.”

“Yes.”

“And yet there is something behind that you will not tell. Hetty, I always thought you frank till now. Why are you making a mystery?”

“I can’t tell you, Miss Davis; I was not doing any harm.”

“How am I to believe that?” said Miss Davis.

“Oh, my head!” moaned Hetty, as the pain seemed crushing it. She thought that if she were to die for it she would not tell that Mark had treated her badly.

Miss Davis went away hurt and displeased, and Hetty was very much alone for several days, being too ill to leave her room, and too deeply in disgrace to be petted by anyone. She was very unhappy, and lay wondering how it was that with a strong desire to do right she seemed always going wrong. If she had dropped the string, gone away to see Mrs. Kane as she had been longing to do, and returned in good time to the school-room to tea, Mark would perhaps have been better pleased with her than he actually was. He had not guessed that she had meant to please him, to make up for telling Miss Davis that they two had played her a trick. He did not ask about her now she was ill, or notice that she was keeping silence and allowing herself to be misunderstood in order that he might not be blamed. If all were told he could not be much blamed, it was true, for what was a mere piece of forgetfulness. But that carelessness of his was a fault of which his father was very impatient, and which always brought on him a severe reprimand.

“And I will not tell this time,” said Hetty to herself, as her eyes feverishly danced after the spots on the wall-paper. “When I told before, it was to save Miss Davis from suffering, this time there is nobody to suffer but myself.”

In the meantime Mark was spending a few days with a school-fellow at a distance of some miles, and had gone away without hearing about Hetty’s illness. As soon as he returned home he missed her, and learned that she was shut up in her room.

He immediately went to inquire for her, and met Miss Davis on the stairs.

“I’m sure I don’t wonder she got a cold,” he said, “but I never meant her to do it.”

“To do what?” asked Miss Davis.

“Why, did she not tell you?”

“I have not been able to get her to tell me what she was about that day for two hours alone in the grounds. She has not behaved well, I am sorry to say; she has been in disgrace as well as ill.”

“Then it was a jolly shame!” burst forth Mark. “I left her to hold a string for me, and I forgot all about her, and went away to ride. And she stood holding the string for two hours in the cold. And I called her a duffer for not running away and letting all my pegs go crooked in the ground. Oh, I say, Miss Davis, it makes a fellow feel awfully ashamed of himself.”

“So it ought,” said Miss Davis, who now understood the whole thing. “She would not tell for fear of getting you blamed.”

“And I called her a tell-tale before,” said Mark, “because she told you about the trick. I’ve been punishing her for weeks about that. Miss Davis, can’t I go in and see her and beg her pardon?”

“Certainly,” said Miss Davis; “she is sitting at the fire, and her eyes are red with crying. Come in with me and we will try to make her happy again.”

“Why, Hetty, you do look miserable!” cried Mark, coming into the room and looking ruefully at her pale cheeks and the black shadows round her eyes. “And to think of you never telling after all I made you suffer!”

“I wanted to show you that I am not a tell-tale, Mark; but oh, I am so glad you have come. I thought you were never going to be friends with me again.”

“I was away four days,” said Mark; “and of course I thought you knew. But Hetty, you are a jolly queer girl I can tell you, and I can’t half understand you. Think of anyone standing two hours to be pierced through and through with cold, rather than drop a fellow’s string and run away!”

Hetty looked at him wistfully, recognizing the truth that he never could understand the sort of feeling that led her into making, as he considered, such a fool of herself. Miss Davis gazed at her kindly and pityingly, thinking of how many hard blows she would get in the future, in return for acts like that which had so puzzled Mark. And she resolved that another time she would be slow in blaming any eccentric conduct in Hetty, and would wait till she could get at the motive which inspired it.